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Plains-Wanderer In Decline

Updated: May 9, 2022

Only 250 to 1,000 of these tiny ground-dwelling birds are left in the wild today, and they can only be found in the desert grasslands of south-eastern Australia.

The Plains-Wanderer is a close relative of gulls and coastal birds, although having lankier legs and a finer bill than quail.

Plains-Wanderers are small fawn-colored birds that blend in with the plains of dry Australia. They reach 12-15cm tall and weigh 40 to 95 grammes. On the head and neck, their variegated feathers contain spots and streaks, as well as white and blackish markings.

Adult males are light brown in colour with fawn-white underparts and black crescents. Females are larger, with a reddish brown breast and a black collar with white spots around the neck.

plains wanderer

Where do the Plains-Wanderers live?

They have survived in small dispersed populations in western Victoria, eastern South Australia, and the western riverina region of NSW, where they were formerly distributed from Victoria to Queensland.

The habitat's structure is crucial. They like semi-arid, natural grasslands with a diversified plant community found on red-brown soils. A good habitat includes of around 50% bare ground, 40% herbs, forbs, and grasses (mostly under 5cm in height but with occasional tussocks for hiding), and 10% fallen plant litter, where they will seek for seeds, leaves, and insects.

In the previous 30 years, the western riverina of NSW has seen the most sightings, but investigations spanning 5,000km2 of this area in the 1990s revealed that only about 5% of the land was suitable habitat, dropping to 1% or 2% in extremely hot or wet years when grasslands were too dense or grazed too low.

Behaviour of Plains-Wanderers

Plains-Wanders are largely sedentary in optimal conditions, while droughts may cause them to become more active.

The average home range of each bird would be about 12 hectares. Males and females with overlapping ranges form breeding pairs, with the larger females defending territories and mating with several birds over the course of a season, and the males incubating eggs and rearing the young.

If the conditions are good, females can lay numerous clutches of two to five eggs every year.


Habitat loss has historically resulted from clearing and pasture enhancement.

Drought or overgrazing over a long period of time can also cause habitat loss due to a lack of suitable ground cover.

Fox predation and developments that result in a rise in the fox population are a severe threat. Increased mouse densities connected to irrigated cereal crops like rice have been linked to fox population growth.

  • High-intensity fires completely demolish suitable habitat.

  • Pesticides used to combat locusts, such as fipronil and fenitrothion, have the potential to harm plains-wanderers directly or indirectly through their food source.

  • Feral cats are known to prey on plains-wanderers.

  • Rabbits can disrupt the habitat of plains-wanderers.

  • There was a large (>90 percent) drop in the observed population over a 14-year period.

  • Positive Aspects of the Story

Donate to the Trust for Nature Plains-Wanderer project to help.

Trust for Nature is a member of the bird's National Recovery Team, which has launched a captive breeding programme to save it from extinction. Zoos Victoria, Parks Victoria, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, catchment management bodies, and national partners are among the team's members.

The bird can only live if it can be released in a safe environment, which is why our job is so critical. We've protected about 540 ha in north-central Victoria with conservation covenants so far, and as a result of the work we're doing to raise awareness of the birds' plight in the area, we've recently heard from many more farmers who want to protect this bird; however, we can't do it without more funds.


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